Liverpool Museums Dismiss Link Between "Penny Lane" and Notorious Slave TraderBreaking News
tags: slavery, Beatles, public history, Liverpool
The signs for Liverpool’s Penny Lane are often decorated with graffiti: names, dates, well wishes to the Beatles who immortalized the street in their 1967 hit. This month, though, the scrawlings changed: the word “Penny” eviscerated with black paint and “racist” scrawled above the signs. An old theory linking the street to a notorious slave trader had resurfaced due to the protests surrounding the police killing of George Floyd — and a cadre of local historians discovered that their research was now thrust into the public eye.
“[Me and a group of historians] have been working on this since about 2010 together — if not slightly earlier individually,” tour guide and local historian Richard MacDonald tells Rolling Stone. “It’s been an academic debate, really. So it’s a bit of a surprise to us all, to be honest; we’re sort of taken aback. We’re not used to this larger media interest in the names of streets going back to this, you know, 17- and 1800s — it’s not the usual thing that makes the news.”
In the end, no streets were renamed; instead, plaques explaining the history of their names were installed. The International Slavery Museum, however, did include Penny Lane in an exhibit of streets named after slave traders. That is, until last week, when interest in the street name boiled over once more, impelling to the museum to dig into its research. The results delighted Bedford — and no doubt Beatles fans the world over.
On June 19th, Executive Director of Museums & Participation Janet Dugdale posted a statement proclaiming that Penny Lane has no connection to the slave trade: “After speaking with Liverpool slavery historian Laurence Westgaph, Tony Tibbles, our Emeritus Keeper of Slavery History (also former Director of Merseyside Maritime Museum) and historian and blogger Glen Huntley, we have concluded that the comprehensive research available to us now demonstrates that there is no historical evidence linking Penny Lane to James Penny. We are therefore extending our original review and setting up a participative project to renew our interactive display.”
In short, the Penny Lane street sign will no longer be a part of the display. “I am delighted to hear that the International Slavery Museum has reviewed the historical research that has been carried out and confirmed what we had been saying, that there is no evidence to link James Penny with Penny Lane,” Bedford says. “This will be a relief to Beatles fans and the local tourism industry, but it also means that the Slavery Museum can continue with the excellent work they do to educate, inform and help us learn from history.”
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